Monthly Archives: December 2012
There is a wide chasm between dependency and codependency. As my mother entered the world of Alzheimer’s disease, she had to depend on my father’s instructions for the simplest of tasks. Then there was a couple I knew where the husband continually cheated on his wife. She always took him back; she felt she deserved it due to low self-esteem. This would be an example of codependency. As the story unfolded in this dramatic movie, I could not clearly say if the two main characters were dependent on each other or not. One person was emotionally handicapped while the other was physically. Former kick-boxer Alain van Versch, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Black Book, Bullhead), with his son Sam, played by newcomer Armand Verdure, moved from Belgium to his sister’s house in Antibes France. Having taken a job as a bouncer at a nightclub, he met Stephanie who was too drunk to drive home. Alain drove her home and left her his phone number. From that one act of kindness, their lives would begin traveling on a parallel course, each one seeking to fulfill a need. Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises, Big Fish) was incredible playing whale handler Stephanie. She already has received nominations for her acting in this role. Matthias’ character was the perfect blend of a good heart masked over by brute strength. I would not say the relationship between Alain and Stephanie was a traditional love story. To the credit of the director and writers, I felt they brought out the beauty of the film by not making a standard love story. The screenplay went to a much deeper level as we observed two damaged individuals trying to make their way in life. My only criticism was the ending felt a little too neat and tidy, compared to the rest of the movie. With several brilliantly filmed scenes; this dark, emotionally charged film left me pondering the fine line between codependency and dependency. Brief scenes of blood and violence. French with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars
There was a time when women could not wear pants. It was not allowed during the period my brothers were in high school. It used to be one could not marry out of their race. Experiencing any type of freedom today, one must look to the past to see who fought for those rights. As a member of the blogosphere, I have read some posts that made me blush. I may not agree with the author of the post, but I would certainly fight for their right to say it. If I am not comfortable reading or seeing something, I simply stop and move on. Being fortunate to live in a country that allows it citizens the freedom of speech, I was curious to see this film about a trailblazer who reinforced that freedom of speech. Poet Allen Ginsberg along with his friend Jack Kerouac were pioneers of what became known as the Beat Generation. Allen’s poem Howl is considered today one of the great works of American literature. When it was first published in the 1950’s, there were many who felt it was obscene. The obscenity trial that ensued was the focus of this film. James Franco (127 Hours, Spiderman franchise) gave an engaging performance portraying the poet Allen Ginsburg. The lawyers at the trial, Jake Ehrlich and Ralph McIntosh, were played by Jon Hamm (The Town, Friends With Kids) and David Strathairn (Lincoln, L.A. Confidential) respectively. I could appreciate the use of three segments to tell this movie; the events that led up to Ginsberg writing his famous piece, the trial itself and the use of animation to enhance the recitation of the poem. But where each segment was interesting, I felt it took away from giving me a fuller story. For example, I would rather have had extra screen time showing more of Allen’s life and his thoughts about the trial. Even having more interaction between Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who was played by Todd Rotondi (Phileine Says Sorry, The Heartbreaker), would have been interesting. The casting for this film was well done, including the small parts for Mary-Louise Parker (Red, Saved!) as Gail Potter and Jeff Daniels (Looper, Dumb & Dumber) as David Kirk. This movie was a compelling history lesson for me. Strong language and visuals of sexual content.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
Many years ago a Cirque du Soleil show saved me from a debilitating blue funk. I had been blindsided by the breakup of a relationship that left me numb. Each day was a struggle to get out of bed and function in the daily routine of life. Planned months prior to all of this, I had tickets to see a Cirque du Soleil show that had been traveling around the country. The performance started with the sound of high pitched chimes randomly ringing. Though I was not in the best frame of mind, I became intrigued with the outrageously colored costumes worn by the performers. We were 20 minutes into the show when a group of clowns took to the stage. Not being a big fan of clowns I started paying more attention to the audience members’ reactions to the skit playing out on stage. Suddenly I was hit with a blast of wind that pressed my curly hair back against my scalp. I turned my gaze back to the stage where a couple of clowns had dragged a huge industrial fan onto a platform. The scene playing out in front of me was a clown trying to maintain his place without the wind machine blowing him off the stage. I was seated directly behind this clown, feeling the effects of the steady wind stream. Two clowns on either side of the fan were pouring confetti in front, creating a blizzard like visual escapade. I burst out with laughter as the confetti whirled pass me; realizing at that very moment, I had forgotten what it felt like to laugh. From that point on I have always had a soft spot inside of me for Cirque du Soleil. If you have never seen a show of theirs, this movie would be the perfect opportunity to experience them. The price of a movie ticket would be a major bargain compared to their live show ticket prices. The story is quite minimal; a young woman at a carnival attempts to save an aerialist when he missed a grab, falling to the earth. The two get sucked into the ground, where they are transported to a different world made up of a series of tents. The woman travels to each tent in search of the missing aerialist. Some of you may have already guessed that each tent was a scene from one of the Cirque shows. There were acts from several of the Las Vegas shows like O and Love. Seeing them in 3D did nothing for me. Honestly it added a weirdness to the acts, dulling some of the magic they usually create. If you have seen a few of their shows already, this movie would not leave a lasting impression on you. The film essentially is a long advertisement for Cirque’s permanent shows. It would have helped if they spent a little more on the story and use the medium of film to enhance the visual experience. Nonetheless I cannot bad mouth Cirque du Soleil for what they did for me so many years ago. And I now have my very own Cirque red and orange souvenir 3D glasses that were given to us at the movie theater.
2 1/4 stars
My grandmother had no friends. It was her choice, since her only concern was her family. I cannot recall a time when my grandmother did not have some home baked sweet treat ready for us to eat. Knowing I would be stopping by her house for Halloween, with my two buckets (I was always paranoid a shopping bag would rip); she would have bags of candy and licorice made up to pass out to me and my friends. She never said a bad word about anyone; her harshest criticism was saying the word “feh” to something or someone she did not like. My grandmother had nothing in common with the grandparents in this comedy. In fact, I do not know of anyone who have grandparents similar to the two in this film. Billy Crystal (Analyze This, When Harry met Sally…) and Bette Midler (Beaches, The First Wives Club) played grandparents Artie and Diane Decker. When their daughter Alice, played by Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler, The Lincoln Lawyer), asked them to babysit their three grandchildren; Diane jumped at the chance while reluctant Artie had no choice but to agree. However when the two elders’ old school way of child rearing smacked up to Alice and her husband Phil’s, played by Tom Everett Scott (Because I Said So, Dead Man on Campus), new school methods; all discovered they could still learn a thing or two about each other. If you happened to see the trailer, you already saw the best parts of this abysmal movie. Besides every humorous moment being predictable, I thought the characters Billy and Bette played were more like two comedians on the comedy circuit tour through the Catskills or Florida (no offense to those who live in either place). Having two actors gifted in comedic timing, I only wished the story had some original ideas for Bette and Billy to mine through and surprise moviegoers. Instead the actors seemed as if they were mugging for the camera. On a positive note, this film was suitable for most of the family; no vulgar language or sexual innuendos, only a little bathroom humor. For a movie like this I would have waited for it to come out on DVD. If my grandmother were alive to watch this film she would have said feh.
1 3/4 stars
You are getting something more with your purchase of a ticket for this movie. You are receiving passage to a director who lovingly pays tribute to his elders with this film. Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill franchise) looks at past filmmakers’ achievements and updates them for a current audience. And in this case he also channels a little bit of Mel Brooks into a couple of scenes in this film. I am not a fan of blood and guts violence, so when I view a Tarantino movie I know there will be a heightened intensity to any kind of confrontation. But Quentin adds a stylized touch to such violence; case in point, the viewer sees a red mist of blood sprayed onto a patch of cotton plants instead of the intended victim. Then there is Quentin’s choice of music for the various scenes; it clearly conveys the actors’ feelings on an audible emotional level. The story starts out simple: a bounty hunter becomes a mentor to a recently freed slave, needing his assistance in tracking down the wanted Brittle brothers. As you may know with any story written by Quentin, there are multiple story lines added. The acting was outstanding throughout this wild film. Jamie Foxx (Law Abiding Citizen, Ray) played slave turned bounty hunter Django. His performance was a simmering, restricted anger on the verge of boiling over. His mentor was the precise, German transplant Dr. King Schultz (you have to love the irony of his name) played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz (Carnage, Water for Elephants). One of my favorite actors, Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic, The Departed) was cast as the maniacal southern plantation owner Calvin Candie. Adding his own special touch to the cast and story was Samuel L. Jackson (Jackie Brown, Unbreakable) as Calvin’s servant Stephen. The great use of dialog, the captivating photography and the imaginative camera angles all helped to make this movie a wonderful homage to what was referred to as the spaghetti western movies. Clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, this film could have used stronger editing. Be prepared to laugh, wince, cringe, stare with disbelief, have your ears assaulted by vulgar negative words, witness ripped or bullet ridden bloody flesh as you enter the unbelievable world of Quentin Tarantino.
3 1/2 stars
A storyteller takes something ordinary and makes it interesting. With an added twist of words the mundane can be transformed into an extraordinary tale. Before I even began my schooling, I was exposed to a master storyteller–my father. Out of the entire family, my dad was the person who provided tall tales and comic relief for everyone. Anyone who was within ear shot would be drawn into my father’s fabrications. As a salesman, he covered the entire city and always found fodder for his next anecodote. The story of my dad stopping by to surprise my mother and me at the grocery store was completely transformed when he retold it. He would say he went into the store and found me crying at the service desk, separated from my mother. When the service manager asked him who he was, my dad said he was my father. The manager turned and asked me if that was my dad and all I could cry for was my mother, never acknowledging my father. It was these tall tales I grew up with and why this touching movie resonated with me. Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich, Annie) was the colorful character Ed Bloom. After being diagnosed with cancer; his estranged son Will, played by Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen), returned home to reconcile with his dad and find out the truth behind the wild stories he had heard growing up. Told in flashbacks the younger Ed Bloom was portrayed by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Beginners). Director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Planet of the Apes) surprised me with this touching, imaginative story. The entire cast blended together so well, that I had no trouble going from fanciful stories to current reality. Jessica Lange was wonderful as she played Ed’s grounded wife Sandra. It was fun to see a younger Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, Twins), Marion Cotillard (Inception, Contagion) and Helena Bonham Carter (Les Miserables, Harry Potter franchise) make up part of the ensemble. This charming movie is being turned into a Broadway play. I believe it will easily transfer to the big stage and do quite well for this simple reason: if you cannot exaggerate the story, then it just isn’t worth telling.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
The stage musical of Les Miserables is one of my favorite shows, having seen it three times. It has one of the best musical scores I have ever heard besides incredible set designs. At least the productions I have seen. The story set in the 1800’s in France, revolved around the life long pursuit by police officer Javert of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who broke parole. There were so many different aspects of the story to hook in the viewer; from redemption and unconditional love to salvation and honor. Everything I loved about the stage show was abused in this film version. While watching this 2 hour and 37 minute movie, I felt the director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Red Dust) sucked the life out of this classic tale. As much as I was impressed with his Oscar winning film The King’s Speech, I was disappointed in this ugly movie. The reason I use the word ugly is because the majority of the scenes looked like they were shot with camera lenses stuck in portrait mode. Constantly seeing angled shots of the actors’ faces quickly became a bore. Then there was the quick cutting from shot to shot, along with using a spiraling camera shoot on actors and buildings, that made me slightly nauseous. Shame on Mr. Hooper; it would have been easy to add drama to the scene if we could have seen some of the body language of the actors. Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise) who I normally enjoy, had something wrong here as Jean Valjean. While every actor singing had a mellowness to their voice, it seemed as Hugh was forced to sing in a higher key. His voice was shrill and grating on my ears. Russell Crowe (Gladitor, A Beautiful Mind) as Javert did an admirable job with his singing. Playing factory worker Fantine, it seemed as if Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) knew she had one chance to make the Oscar voters notice, giving it her all to her song performance. I will say she did a great job. The surprise for me was Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Marius. I had no idea he could sing and do it so well. Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, The Dictator) and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) were comic relief as the crooked innkeeper and his wife. I knew I was going to witness misery in this movie; I just did not realize it would be my own over this poorly done film.
My introduction to my 40th birthday was having the bagger at the checkout line calling me “sir” and asking if I needed help with my bags. Asking several friends what they noticed when they crossed the threshold into middle age, the responses were quite varied. One person suddenly felt expandable waist bands on blue jeans was a good idea, while another was perplexed why Suri kept suggesting he sit down and take a rest. Then there was the friend who wondered if she was going to be banned from Target or Express, having to spend the remainder of her years shopping at Lane Bryant or some discount store. At a wedding would I never be able to get up to shake my hips on the dance floor unless it was a Cha Cha or that generic version bands always play of Kool & the Gang’s Celebration? For those in a relationship, would they start dressing alike once they reached that magic number? In this comedy, the married couple are on the verge of turning 40 years old. Leslie Mann (17 Again, Knocked Up) played Debbie who wanted nothing to do with turning 40. Paul Rudd (Role Models, Wanderlust) was Debbie’s conflict avoiding husband Pete. Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Pineapple Express) wrote and directed this updated story about Debbie and Pete from Knocked Up. Settled into married life with daughters Sadie and Charlotte, played by Judd’s real life children Maude and Iris, the neurotic couple tried to cope with life’s daily annoyances. There were laugh out loud scenes through the movie, but be prepared for the vulgar language that everyone spews out, including the kids. I felt Judd used his real life experiences for a baseline, but then elevated them to an unrealistic level. Without going into stronger character development, the film went on longer than it needed. It started feeling as if we were going from one joke line to the next. Though I am still glad I went to see this movie, please do not tell me this is what happens to people who have been married for a long time.
2 2/3 stars
I cannot remember the last time I have seen a movie that drained me as much as this remarkable film. The intensity, the human hardships, the physical challenges, all left me spent and exhausted. The trailers should have mentioned that tissues were required for all show times; tears periodically slipped out of my eyes during the movie. I am eternally grateful that I have not experienced a catastrophic event. The only awarenesses I have formed have been through media sources. After witnessing the amazing special effects in recreating the December 26th tsunami of 2004, I have a whole new knowledge on the variety of damages that can be inflicted on the human body. This movie was based on the true story of one family’s ordeal after a tsunami struck the Thailand coastal town where they were on holiday. Naomi Watts (J. Edgar, 21 Grams) was amazing in her role as the mother Maria. She may receive an Oscar nomination for this role; she exuded pain and suffering. Ewan McGregor (The Ghost Writer, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) played Maria’s husband Henry. The real standouts of the cast were the three boys who played the sons of Maria and Henry. They were relative newcomers Tom Holland as eldest son Lucas, Samuel Joslin as middle child Thomas and Oaklee Pendergast as the youngest son Simon. In my opinion, Tom Holland was so good with his acting; I would not be surprised if he got a nomination for it. Adding a poignant element I felt was the inclusion of several actual survivors as extras. I have mentioned this before, that I try not to compare one person’s challenges to another. After feeling like an observer to this dramatic thriller, I am not only humbled; but I have been reminded that no matter how big I feel my problems are, they are not a life or death situation. May no one ever experience such a disaster again. Scenes of blood and bodily injuries.
3 1/2 stars
Since we just had our first measurable snowfall, I recall how much fun I had building forts out of snow. The best kind of snow to use was one heavy with moisture; it would make a funny scrunching sound as it was being squeezed tight. Once the fort was completed, my friends and I would separate into two sides and start a snowball fight. Usually the winning team would get to destroy the opponent’s fort. There was never any hatred involved or wishing someone harm. If anything each of us would use our imaginations to come up with exotic or fanciful ways of winning. I claimed my snowballs were stun balls, causing anyone hit by one to be temporarily paralyzed until the end of the game. Coming across this Oscar nominated movie based on a true story, it really sent a clear message to me for this holiday season. It was December 24, 1914 and the most horrific war to date was raging in Europe. Converging together on the battlefield were fully armed German, French and Scottish troops. Every soldier was cold and weary while their respective commanders were looking for some weakness to exploit in defeating the enemy. However something happened when a stray cat wandered into the fray. I found this story to be a hopeful example of what can be achieved when people put aside their differences and become human again. Not only did I find the acting well done, I thought the casting of actors was exceptional. For example, Diane Kruger (National Treasure, Troy) lovely as Danish soprano Anna Sorensen; Benno Furmann (North Face, Curse of the Ring) as German officer Nicolaus Sprink and Ian Richardson (Dark City, Becoming Jane) as religious figure L’eveque. In the middle of a grotesque war to find an oasis of humanity, this film was a surprise treat. The bottom line for me has nothing to do with a person’s race, religion, sexuality or country; it simply is a matter of being a decent human being. This was an astonishing, inspiring story; I was grateful it had been turned into a movie. French, German, English, Latin with subtitles.
3 1/3 stars — DVD